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Midland Avenue Regional Treatment Facility in Southside Neighborhood of Syracuse, NY, USA

Sewage treatment plant forced eviction of 35 African American families and polluted water and soil. But Ejos managed to close it and initiated a new political path towards more equitable policies and urban plans.


A small community in the Southside Neighborhood of Syracuse in Onondaga County was the target for a large sewage treatment plant that resulted in the forced eviction of more than 35 African American families, the stigma of having such a facility in their neighborhood and the threat of further environmental burdens.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Midland Avenue Regional Treatment Facility in Southside Neighborhood of Syracuse, NY, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New York
Location of conflict:Southside Neighborhood (Brighton) in Syracuse
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:20/01/1998
End of the conflict:04/11/2009
Company names or state enterprises:New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) from United States of America - Supported the large sewage treatment plant and the old "gray" methods of CSO abatement that would harm the local community
Onondaga County from United States of America - Played large role in the forced eviction of 35 families for the construction of the Midland facility
Relevant government actors:US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), NYSDEC
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC), Onondaga Nation, the Syracuse Peace Council, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the Student Environmental Action Coalition of Syracuse University, the State University’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and West Harlem Environmental Action
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents
Other Health impactsHigh asthma rates in this community because of local industry. Air pollution would increase as a result of the construction of the chlorine-based treatment facility: volatized chloroform and other trihalomethanes (THMs) formed by the chlorination of the plant’s effluent will adversely affect the neighborhood’s air quality. Toxic chlorinated by-products are harmful to both humans and aquatic life.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsHigh sewer tax: the plant will cost taxpayers at least $122 million. Syracuse’s low-income homeowners will be economically stressed by this regressive sewer tax. Residents were promised jobs at the Midland construction site as a community benefit but only 5 people of color out of 158 workers were given jobs.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC) worked closely with County Executive Joanne Mahoney beginning in 2007 to develop a healthier, environmentally and socially friendlier CSO abatement alternative (underground storage and green infrastructure) was proposed.
Green infrastructure included sewer separation, rain gardens and permeable pavement and green roofs at a cost of 10-20% less than construction of previously planned treatment plants.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Although the Midland RTF was built, activists were able to affect the rest of the planned construction and positively impact the environment through green infrastructure and underground storage.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] The History of the Midland Sewage Plant Struggle on Syracuse's Southwest side- The Partnership for Onondaga Creek
[click to view]

[2] A Case Study of the Community Impacts of Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement Project in Syracuse, New York
[click to view]

[3] Environmental Racism in Syracuse, NY: A Case Study of Government’s Failure to Protect an Endangered Waterway and a Neglected Community- March 2007 by POC
[click to view]

[4] Learning from our Success- Aggie Lane
[click to view]

[5] Sewage on the Southside: Not in my backyard- Feb 5, 2008
[click to view]

[6] Activists' persistence on sewage pushed Onondaga County to 'go green'- January 18, 2010
[click to view]

NYSDEC Awards POC and Its Partners a 2012 Environmental Justice Grant
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1425
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